Athletics has always been a popular activity to use as metaphors for the spiritual life. St. Paul, for example, used running and fighting in his letter to Timothy (2 Tim 4:7). Many modern writers and speakers use American football (Serving the Servants: A Football Analogy) while Canadians are probably more partial to hockey analogies (The Catechism of Hockey: not just for sports fans).
As the archery coach in a Catholic high school I prefer, of course, archery analogies. The use of archery analogies is scriptural for the definition of the word ‘sin’ actually derives from the Hebrew archery term for ‘missing the mark’. Archery is also an appealing analogy because, like the spiritual life, there are a few basics principles and a life time of practice. In our busy lives as men we need simple, and we need practice.
Archers do not face their targets but rather face in a direction at right angles to the target. I always found this analogous to Jesus’ directive that while we are ‘in the world’ we are not ‘of the world’. If we face the target fully it is impossible to draw the bow. If we are fully immersed in this world we cannot exercise our supernatural or natural virtues. The right stance is the first important principle in archery and in life.
The second foundational principle for archers is the ‘anchor’. The ‘anchor’ or ‘anchor point’ is the point where the hand drawing the bowstring back comes into contact somewhere on the archer’s jaw. Some archers hook a finger into their lip, others fit their jaws into the pad between the thumb and forefinger. Regardless of where it is, that is always their anchor. The anchor provides consistency, especially if the archer is shooting instinct style (both eyes open and no sights).
You probably see where this one is going. Jesus is our anchor point for every action. Every action, every shot, has to originate from that anchor point in order to fly consistently straight to the target. If we deviate from that anchor point then the shot will be off target, and the farther away that target is, the more we’ll miss it.
Finally, we have focus, the actual looking at what we aim to hit. This is particularly true in instinct shooting. Target bows have sights on the bow and often times peep sights on the string, but instinct shooting is more like life, we don’t often have a lot of extra help. The trick in focusing is to pick a small spot on the target and aim for that, rather than focus on the whole target. I often tape a playing card on our school targets and tell my students to aim for the little red diamond/heart or black club/spade on the card. They are amazed at how much their accuracy improves. Life is like that as well. When we want to grow in a particular virtue, prudence for example, we often focus on prudence in general and we end up all over the place. However, if we focus on just one particular area of prudence, it sharpens our attention and accuracy, for example, when we try to be more prudent in matters of finances or time management. When we become consistent in that we move on to another spot on the target and aim there. Soon we hit what we look at, instinctively.
Stance, anchor and focus. Three simple principles, and a whole lot of practice. A good archer should shoot at least 100 arrows a day to keep his skills honed. We make a hundred decisions a day. Make them count.
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